ASK FATHER: Mary was an “unwed mother”? The Holy Family were “refugees”?

From a reader…


At this time of year the inevitable ‘Mary was an unwed mother‘ and The Holy Family’s flight into Egypt makes them migrants sermons are very confusing. Can you clarify these interpretations? Or recommend a source that does.I discount them as political or ‘Social Justice’interpretations that use both events to their own purposes, which I think is wrong! A recent example was USCCB using the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe as ‘a day of Solidarity with Migrants’. I see my church becoming way too political. Thank you and Merry Christmas to you!

Yes… this sort of thing is inevitable: force the narrative into an agenda.

1 – Mary was an unwed mother… not.   

The Jewish marriage practice was to make the contract with the bride’s father and pay a bride-price (mohar) and the betrothal was the legal equivalent of a marriage ceremony. The bride would remain in her father’s home for up to a year, but she was considered to be married. Joseph would have paid the bride-price at their engagement, when the marriage contract was solemnized, but Mary would have remained in Joachim’s house. They were formally wedded in a ceremony after the angel instructed Joseph in the dream.

So, from the moment Mary was betrothed to Joseph she was legally considered to be the wife of Joseph.  Their relationship was sacred as if they had already had the wedding ceremony.  The bond could not be dissolved except, as after formal marriage, by divorce.

Calling Mary an “unwed mother” is dangerously close to blasphemy.

2 – The Holy Family were “refugees”.   Sort of, but not in the way that liberals want you to believe.

The Holy Family goes first to Bethlehem because of the census.   If you are going to your ancestral town mandated census, you are not a refugee.

“But Father! But Father!, libs are squealing, “They were denied a room in the inn.  Those innkeepers were mean refugee hating meanies!  They were undocumented migrants and the haters refused to let them in.   That’s what YOU would do!   That’s because you HATE VATICAN II!”

If you register in the census, you are not “undocumented”.

They weren’t migrants, because they were only there to register and then return home to Nazareth.

They didn’t get to stay at the inn or the khan, because – try to follow this – there was no room at the inn.  Which means there was no room at the inn.   They weren’t give room because there wasn’t any.  If there had been a room, they would have been given a room.  It was customary to take travelers into homes, as when people journeyed to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice.  As Alfred Edersheim explains the denial of a room had nothing to do with their poverty.  The rabbinic teaching was that travelers were to be received as the shekinah should be received.   So, they weren’t rejected because they were poor, or “different” or foreigners, blah blah blah.  The inn or khan was FULL.

The Holy Family went to Egypt.  Why?   Just before the Patron Saint of Planned Parenthood, Herod, ordered the slaughter of all the babies, an angel told Joseph in a dream to take his family to Egypt.   If an angel tells you to do something, you do it.  So, the flight into Egypt was not just due to the awful circumstances caused by Herod, it is also divinely directed because of what Herod was going to do.

Also, they had to to Egypt so that the prophecy would be fulfilled:

That it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Out of Egypt have I called my son. (Matthew 2:15)

So, no, they Holy Family, seeking refuge in Egypt at the specific direction of God, is not the archetype of all refugees today.

If they sought refuge in Egypt, they were, in a sense, “refugees”.  However, they were a) three people, not thousands and they were b) fleeing the concrete danger of murder of their Child.  They sought sanctuary.

Moreover, the Holy Family were no threat to the national security of Egypt.

Finally, when the danger was over, they went home.

It is interesting to note that the Joseph of Genesis was driven into Egypt – sold as a slave and not a refugee – which led to the enslavement of the People. Joseph of the New Testament was driven into Egypt, which led to the salvation of the People.  Herod and Pharaoh both ordered the slaughter of infants. Moses and Jesus both escaped slaughter in Egypt and both led an exodus from bondage.

Just because biblical figures traveled somewhere – usually because God told them to go there – that doesn’t make them refugees. Adam and Eve were not refugees from Paradise, they were being punished.  Cain was not a refugee after he killed Abel, God punished him with wandering.  Abraham was called by God to go places.  Etc.


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  1. TomG says:

    Types and anti-types. Always inspiring and frequently thrilling!

  2. Fr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    even further – at the time that the Holy Family traversed in Egypt, they crossed no real international boundaries. The Hasmonean Kingdom, including both Galilee and Judea, became a client state of Rome in 63 BC, and the Egyptian territory was an imperial (Augustal) province of Rome since 30 BC.

    The Holy Family needed no passport to cross into Egypt or back again.

    [Both good points.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  3. JARay says:

    I have always held that “there was no room for them” is perfectly understandable in the sense that Mary was about to give birth to a child and there was no maternity hospital in Bethlehem at that time. So, what could the Inn-Keeper do? He offered them the next best thing which was his stable where Mary would have the privacy she needed when giving birth. We feel horrified today because we do not have horses and cows and other such animals around us as part of our every-day life. But it was quite common in many countries for humans and animals to share accomodation even, say, a thousand years ago. There was nothing strange about such a sharing in the days when Jesus was born. The stable was a good, sensible, idea which the Inn-Keeper offered Mary and Joseph and I am sure that the offer of the stable was welcomed by both Joseph and Mary. Such was a suitable, sensible, place which offered them privacy when Jesus came to be born.

  4. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Yup. It was more like fleeing California for Oregon, rather than fleeing from one country to another.

  5. Well this year I got a little different wrinkle from the pulpit on the social justice theme. This Christmas I learned that maybe the reason Mary and Joseph were turned away from the inn was because she was an “unwed mother.” How did they know she was an “unwed mother”? Because (contrary to the Gospels) when Joseph realized she was pregnant, he couldn’t keep his big fat yap shut and told a friend his “girlfriend” was pregnant and he wasn’t the father; and then the friend told a friend, who told a friend, until the word spread to the innkeeper at Bethlehem and all his guests, who were too “pious” and “respectable” to have an “unwed mother” in their midst. Of course this led to an attack on Catholics who are “too attached” to “rigid doctrines” instead of loving God, and on people who “don’t want to welcome refugees.” [That’s pretty stupid.]

    How long, O Lord?

  6. Blackfriar says:

    “Calling Mary an “unwed mother” is dangerously close to blasphemy.”

    Nevertheless, the title “mater innupta” – literally “unwedded mother” -is traditionally given to the Blessed Virgin in a number of traditional chants. [Oh brother…] We find it, for example, in the traditional litany of Our Lady in both the Premonstratenian and Dominican Orders. St Peter Damian uses it in De Variis Apparitionibus et Miraculis (PL vol. 145, p. 588) as part of the antiphon Gaude, dei Genetrix. The antiphon can be found in Cantus selecti, Solesmes, 1957, p. 111*. So before we think of blasphemy, we should recall that “lex orandi, lex credendi” and this title is, or at any rate, for many centuries was, part of the lex orandi. The question is really exactly how one understands and interprets the title. [D’YA THINK?]

    [Gimme a break! How it is used in chants by Norbertines and Dominicans is not at all in the sense that the phrase is intended in English common parlance today. ]

  7. Gaetano says:

    That’s not ordinary stupid. It’s weapons-grade stupid.

  8. Absit invidia says:

    “If you are going to your ancestral town mandated census, you are not a refugee.”

    Well stated … as were all the other points mentioned. So tired of Catholics identifying with the zeitgeist first and Catholic truths last.

  9. GregB says:

    I wonder if it could be said that Bethlehem had no room in the inn because the forced travel involved in the census had overwhelmed the town with travelers and that the local travel resources were maxed out? Social Justice Warriors seem to have a major problem with the concept of carrying capacity limits. Most public facilities like auditoriums, meeting halls etc. have posted maximum occupancy ratings. I wonder how many of the capsizing boats that were carrying immigrants across the Mediterranean Sea were loaded beyond their rated capacity? Social Justice Warriors act as if resources are unlimited.


  11. Chrissin says:

    Thank you! Father Z to the rescue! And Herrod the Patron Saint of Planned (Un)Parenthood! Good one. Really disheartened by all the migrant analogies and guilt trips! I feel better prepared to correct these ideas since they often come in conversations now. They have been ‘mainstreamed’ to a large degree by dishonest clergy to gullible Catholics. I love my faith and I love being Catholic!
    As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

  12. Pingback: Mary was an “unwed mother”? The Holy Family were “refugees”? Father Z replies. |

  13. Ave Maria says:

    I have heard many times from the pulpit that Mary was an unwed teenaged mother. This year from our young, Rome educated priest I have heard several times that Joseph was a sinner and not wanting to expose his ‘fiancee’ to his shame would then send her away. WHY is this being taught? I have defended Our Lady’s honor even when going through the program for my Master’s in theology.

  14. Peter Stuart says:

    Thank you for this, Father. I fell away from the Church more than three decades ago partially because everything about the Faith was getting turned into propaganda just like today and didn’t seem to offer anything different from what the world did except more left-wing politics. The difference today is priests like you. I pray for many more like you on behalf of my fellow struggling SSAs and all confused Catholics who otherwise would drift away like I did.

    [Thanks for that.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  15. frjim4321 says:

    “This Christmas I learned that maybe the reason Mary and Joseph were turned away from the inn was because she was an “unwed mother.””

    I think the preacher needs a review of his scripture studies.

  16. Antonin says:

    True -she was betrothed – however sexual relations were not permitted and the fact that Mary was found to be with child she was to be stoned to death Deut 22:20…clearly this is a most unusual set of events and Jospeh’s solution is interesting in that his first instinct is not to follow the clear precept of the law even before being visited by angels

    And furthermore why would God put Mary in such a vulnerable position causing her to act in a way contrary to the very Torah…and why would Mary say yes?

    It truly is a mystery and a deep one

    Kierkegaard answered that by alluding to Mary suggesting only she and Abraham were very placed in such a position as to suspend the ethical in a leap of faith. So Mary is not only like the new Eve but also like a new Abraham

  17. Semper Gumby says:

    Great post and comments. Speaking of the Exodus, the Social Justice Warriors have been creating mayhem there too.

    Back around 1970, some “biblical scholars” in academia decided that the Exodus never happened. Instead, a “Peasant’s Revolt” occurred in the hills of “Palestine” where “dissidents” revolted against the Canaanite city-states of the coastal plains. Then, needing a unifying myth, these peasants concocted a tale of slavery in Egypt and escape. (To name just one example see Prof. George Mendenhall of U. Mich. at Ann Arbor).

    Since the 1970s the Peasant Revolt Model has been modified a bit, but serious damage has been done to the biblical account and to the post-WWII pro-biblical research of William Albright and John Bright. As we all know, academia today employs many muddle-headed Leftists. One example: around 1995 a well-known journalist was interviewing a well-known epigrapher (who studies in detail the ancient inscriptions dug up by archaeologists). In the middle of a discussion on ancient Near Eastern monuments the epigrapher suddenly broke out in a rant against Ronald Reagan, who of course left office in 1989.

    Most of today’s “biblical scholarship” and TV documentaries (such as PBS’ two-hour biblical archaeology special in August 2017) are simply secular/Leftist propaganda that contains elements of anti-Christianity, anti-Catholic Church, and occasionally anti-Semitism. (I saw numerous clips of this PBS documentary in October, it’s sole redeeming feature was it acknowledged the authenticity of the “House of David” inscription found at Tel Dan in Israel in 1994).

    As for the Exodus itself, two helpful books are by Prof. James Hoffmeier: “Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition” (1996), and “Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition” (2005).

    A few notes from Prof. Hoffmeier:

    -Royal inscriptions on ancient Egyptian temples and monuments never contain negative information about any Pharaoh or any of his armies. A monument or wall relief detailing the Exodus probably never existed.

    -The Hebrews were in slavery in the Nile Delta area. This area is humid with a high water table, and modern archaeologists sometimes need a water pump to excavate. Ancient papyrus scrolls from this area are very rare. The papyrus found in the late 19th century by Flinders-Petrie excavating at Tanis date back only to the Roman era. Thus, any record of the Exodus written by the ancient Egyptians will probably never be found, and probably none ever existed.

    -The biblical Exodus account is plausible:

    a. For migration into Egypt see the 19th century BC painting in the tomb of Khnum-Hotep at Beni Hassan. This painting is also known as the “37 Asiatics” and shows tribespeople in multi-colored robes.

    b. For brickmaking see the 15th century BC painting in the tomb of Rekhmire, vizier of Thutmose III and mayor of Thebes.

    c. For a document written by a brickmaking supervisor involving quotas and straw, the Louvre has a leather scroll dated to the 13th century BC.

    Ok, that’s a fraction of Hoffmeier’s books. He also discusses Exodus 1:14 and “all kinds of field work.” He discusses the debate over the words “Habiru/Apiru” in ancient texts and whether those should be translated as “Hebrew.” He also goes in depth on the route the Hebrews took leaving Egypt and entering Sinai (Exodus 14:2, Migdol, the coastal road or Way of Horus, and the relief of Seti I at Karnak that depicts the Way of Horus.)

    Today, as we all know, social justice warriors often refuse to deal with facts yet they claim “Science” is on their side. (hmm… perhaps someday in some sun-baked and dusty Middle East excavation site an archaeologist will remove his hat, wipe his brow, look at the leering and demonic clay idol in his hand, and slowly decipher the ancient writing on it as: “the god Science.” Ah, just a thought.) These SJWs worship “Science” while rejecting- some of them quite angrily- Israel, the Bible, and the Catholic Church.

    SJWs might not want to listen patiently to a theological account of the Exodus. However, according to certain professors (such as Hoffmeier, Albright, Bright, et al) and science (archaeology, epigraphy etc.) the biblical Exodus is absolutely plausible.

  18. ProfKwasniewski says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z, for clarifying this important topic. Those interested in reading more might be interested in this post on the true marriage between Mary and Joseph:

  19. JARay says:

    May I offer this thought to those who question whether Mary and Joseph were actually married. Consider this, Joseph, we are told, considered divorcing Mary when he found out that she was pregnant. Therefore, he must have considered that there was a marriage relationship between them which he could break by divorce! Clearly then, he considered that he was married to Mary! Then it was that he was told by an angel in a dream just how Mary had become pregnant, that she had not committed adultery and that God Himself had brought this pregnancy about. He was told that God Himself was the real father of Jesus and that he, Joseph, was charged with being the effective father of Jesus throughout his childhood. As we know, Joseph rose to this challenge which he had been given and he became a loving father to Jesus throughout.

  20. tradition4all says:

    Fr. Z.,

    I understand your zeal, and I agree that the claims you mention are used to bad ends.

    However, I think the case you’re trying to make regarding the refugee status question goes further than it needs to or should.

    “They didn’t get to stay at the inn or the khan, because – try to follow this – there was no room at the inn. Which means there was no room at the inn. They weren’t give room because there wasn’t any. If there had been a room, they would have been given a room. It was customary to take travelers into homes, as when people journeyed to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice. As Alfred Edersheim explains the denial of a room had nothing to do with their poverty. The rabbinic teaching was that travelers were to be received as the shekinah should be received. So, they weren’t rejected because they were poor, or ‘different’ or foreigners, blah blah blah. The inn or khan was FULL.”

    While this reading of the text might reflect the literal-historical meaning of the text, I don’t see any problem with the Church applying an allegorical-moral reading. I think it’s pretty common for Catholic devotional authors to ask their readers, “Are you going to receive Jesus, Mary, and Joseph into your heart? Or is your heart, like the inn, too full with worldly concerns?” Even if the inn was simply full, nothing prevents someone from using the text to challenge readers to find “more room” for the least of our brothers.

    Also, even if the inn was full, the Gospel is silent on whether the homes were full. It’s possible that the people of Bethlehem were sinful in refusing the Holy Family. I think that point has been developed in several Christmas traditions, before the current buzz about refugees. Just because “it’s a rabbinic teaching” to receive travelers doesn’t mean the people of Bethlehem actually followed that practice. As I mentioned above, Catholic devotional readings typically do hold the people of Bethlehem up as an example of worldliness that has no room for the Christ Child, not as an example of saints doing such saintly work that they have no room for the Christ Child.

    For what it’s worth, at Midnight Mass, a very traditional priest reported a tradition, one I’d never heard before, [Probably for good reason.] saying that the reason there “was no room in the inn” was that the innkeepers knew that St. Joseph was the true Davidic heir. They excluded the Holy Family because of Herod’s threats, which would make the Holy Family refugees in the sense that they were hunted individuals.

    Also, the Gospel does *not* say that the inn was full, only that there was “no place” for the Holy Family there (quia non erat eis locus in diversorio). You can lay the stress on there not being a place, or you can lay it on “eis”: no place *for them.* But the Gospel does not say that it was full. The inspired text is cagier than that, which allows for more interpretative options than a “No Vacancy” sign implies. [I’ll stick with it.]

    Lastly, the argument that Palestine and Egypt weren’t really separate countries is too cute by half. [Not my argument.] Whether or not the Romans ruled both countries in one way or another, a Jew in Palestine would have been conscious of living in his own country, the Holy Land, the Promised Land. A Jew living in Egypt would have been conscious of living in a foreign, Gentile, pagan country, the Diaspora. The Holy Family were forced to flee their native country and enter a foreign country in order to find refuge from political persecution at home. If a person in that scenario doesn’t qualify as a refugee, no one does.

    “They sought sanctuary.” Yes—in the specific sense of “refuge, asylum.” Making them refugees, asylum-seekers.

    The problem isn’t with identifying the Holy Family with refugees; they definitely were. The problem isn’t with drawing analogies to how we should welcome refugees; all things being equal, we should. The problems are with the following:

    1.) Expecting to assimilate refugees into the host society rather than return them home
    2.) Allowing in refugees who constitute an immanent security risk (a point you make)
    3.) Giving so many people the benefit of the doubt in classifying them as refugees that these people flee their own countries instead of working to resolve the conflicts in those countries
    4.) Militant Islam
    5.) Not redirecting Moslem refugees to other Moslem countries that should be rich enough to help them

    As for Christian refugees from the Middle East, I see no difficulty in identifying their situation with that of the Holy Family.

    So, to sum up, there’s no reason to welcome all manner of refugees from all religions and countries willy-nilly, with no vetting and no numbers cap, just because the Holy Family were refugees. But they were in fact refugees, and the fact that they Holy Family were refugees is a good argument to assist refugees when it is prudent to do so, under the rubric that whatsoever you do for the least of Christ’s brethren, that you do unto Him. The liberals’ principle here is correct. The failure is in the application.

    [No one around here is saying that we shouldn’t show charity to true refugees. Sheesh.]

  21. Marion Ancilla Mariae II says:

    Antonin wrote (above) on the deep mystery of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s pregnancy when she was betrothed to Joseph, but they did not yet live together.

    Saint Thomas Aquinas illuminates the situation as only he can do:

    “It was fitting that Christ should be born of an espoused virgin; first, for His own sake; secondly, for His Mother’s sake; thirdly, for our sake. For the sake of Christ Himself, for four reasons. First, lest He should be rejected by unbelievers as illegitimate: wherefore Ambrose says on Luke 1:26-27: ‘How could we blame Herod or the Jews if they seem to persecute one who was born of adultery?’

    “Secondly, in order that in the customary way His genealogy might be traced through the male line. Thus Ambrose says on Luke 3:23: ‘He Who came into the world, according to the custom of the world, had to be enrolled. Now for this purpose, it is the men that are required, because they represent the family in the senate and other courts. The custom of the Scriptures, too, shows that the ancestry of the men is always traced out.’

    “Thirdly, for the safety of the new-born Child: lest the devil should plot serious hurt against Him. Hence Ignatius says that she was espoused ‘that the manner of His Birth might be hidden from the devil.’

    “Fourthly, that He might be fostered by Joseph: who is therefore called His ‘father,’ as bread-winner.

    “It was also fitting for the sake of the Virgin. First, because thus she was rendered exempt from punishment; that is, ‘lest she should be stoned by the Jews as an adulteress,’ as Jerome says.

    “Secondly, that thus she might be safeguarded from ill fame. Whence Ambrose says on Luke 1:26-27: ‘She was espoused lest she be wounded by the ill-fame of violated virginity, in whom the pregnant womb would betoken corruption.’

    “Thirdly, that, as Jerome says, Joseph might administer to her wants.

    “This was fitting, again, for our sake. First, because Joseph is thus a witness to Christ’s being born of a virgin. Wherefore Ambrose says: ‘Her husband is the more trustworthy witness of her purity, in that he would deplore the dishonor, and avenge the disgrace, were it not that he acknowledged the mystery.’

    “Secondly, because thereby the very words of the Virgin are rendered more credible by which she asserted her virginity. Thus Ambrose says: ‘Belief in Mary’s words is strengthened, the motive for a lie is removed. If she had not been espoused when pregnant, she would seem to have wished to hide her sin by a lie: being espoused, she had no motive for lying, since a woman’s pregnancy is the reward of marriage and gives grace to the nuptial bond.’ These two reasons add strength to our faith.

    “Thirdly, that all excuse be removed from those virgins who, through want of caution, fall into dishonor. Hence Ambrose says: ‘It was not becoming that virgins should expose themselves to evil report, and cover themselves with the excuse that the Mother of the Lord had also been oppressed by ill-fame.’

    “Fourthly, because by this the universal Church is typified, which is a virgin and yet is espoused to one Man, Christ, as Augustine says (De Sanct. Virg. xii).

    “A fifth reason may be added: since the Mother of the Lord being both espoused and a virgin, both virginity and wedlock are honored in her person, in contradiction to those heretics who disparaged one or the other.

    ” . . . We must believe that the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, desired, from an intimate inspiration of the Holy Ghost, to be espoused, being confident that by the help of God she would never come to have carnal intercourse: yet she left this to God’s discretion. Wherefore she suffered nothing in detriment to her virginity.

    ” . . . As Ambrose says on Luke 1:26: ‘Our Lord preferred that men should doubt of His origin rather than of His Mother’s purity. For he knew the delicacy of virgin modesty, and how easily the fair name of chastity is disparaged: nor did He choose that our faith in His Birth should be strengthened in detriment to His Mother.’ We must observe, however, that some miracles wrought by God are the direct object of faith; such are the miracles of the virginal Birth, the Resurrection of our Lord, and the Sacrament of the Altar. Wherefore our Lord wished these to be more hidden, that belief in them might have greater merit. Whereas other miracles are for the strengthening of faith: and these it behooves to be manifest.” (ST q 29 a 1)

  22. Saor Alba says:

    Even if the Holy Family were “refugees” when they fled danger to Egypt, it is worthy of note that they returned to their homeland when the danger was passed.

  23. Jacques says:

    The Holy Family had the misfortune not finding an available resting place in Bethlehem probably because the census had obliged many people to leave their homes. Joseph was not a poor, he had a job, certainly he had money enough to undertake the trip from Nazareth with his wife but there was no place to welcome them. And certainly many other people actually were themselves in that same situation.
    When they had to flee to Egypt the gifts they were given by the Maggi, the gold, the incense, and the myrrh, made them a rich family (since they were gifts given by kings to another king, the King of the Jews).
    This could help them to settle in Cairo where they lived some years, according to the egyptian Tradition.

  24. Southern Catholic says:

    Now you have Fr. James Martin claiming that Jesus had brothers in the Washington Post.

    [He needs a lot of prayers. May God forgive him for the confusion he sows.]

  25. Blackfriar says:

    Pax, pater! I think we are essentially on the same page on this. [Me too.] I said it is a matter of how the title “mater innupta” is “understood and interpreted” and you say it’s about “the sense in which it is intended” … Well, I would agree with that.
    I think that “mater innupta” in the liturgy is essentially a synonym for “Virgo mater”, that is, it is pointing to the miracle of the virginal conception of Jesus. Of course, no-one imagines that a modern “unmarried mother” came by her child in that way. Still, some are victims of force, others of false promises, and many of bad example and false teaching, and at least they have decided to keep their child and protect the precious life within them – sometimes in the face of strong pressure to do otherwise. Our Lady would have been subject to opprobrium or possibly even legal sanction had St Joseph not intervened (something he intended to do, albeit differently, even before he knew of the Child’s divine origin.) I can imagine a preacher alluding to this when doing his best to promote life and the protection of life , and perhaps urging avoidance a false or rash judgement about modern unmarried mothers. It might not be prudent, I would say, (I have never preached in that way myself) and in fact I think “mater innupta” probably remained a rare title for Mary because it is too easily misunderstood; it is in fact only true in a sense, or half-true, and then only of Mary until the time Joseph took her into his home and they were truly married. Still, without knowing the details, I’d be reluctant to condemn. That’s all I was meaning to say: I am sorry if I did not express myself well.

    [Thanks for the additional comment and happy Christmas!]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  26. Blackfriar says:

    Regarding the priest who preached that “St Joseph was a sinner”, as usual we need to make some distinctions. In his declaration of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, Pope St Pius IX taught that Mary was preserved from original sin by a “singular grace and privilege”. Now “singular” generally means “unique” or “one of a kind”, “altogether exceptional”. The word is, obviously, associated with oneness. While I do not think that in using this word the Pope actually intended to define that no-one else was ever granted that privilege, I do think that this is the general assumption behind it. In other words, while it is probably not actually heresy to hold that St Joseph was also preserved from original sin, it is certainly at best a private opinion that has no support in Church teaching. So that is just a heavy-handed way to say look, St Joseph was most probably conceived in original sin, like everyone else other than Our Lord and Our Lady.
    It is generally held, I think, that St John the Baptist was cleansed of original sin when he leapt in the womb, so I see no theological problem with the idea that Joseph, in view of the special rôle he would play in the Lord’s life, would also have been so cleansed. I have heard that some private revelations have said that this is so. As far as I know, it is not taught by the magisterium – I am open to correction on that – but it seems to me to be a reasonable thing to believe.
    As far as actual sin goes, St Joseph is called a “just man” (Mt 1: 19). Now it is true that Proverbs 24:16 says “The just man falls seven times”, and some saints have used that text to suggest that everyone, if he examines himself, will find that he has certainly sinned. Well, that’s true for most of us. But “falls” in Prv does not necessarily mean “sins” – it could mean “gets into strife”, possibly with the ungodly – and in any case, it would not exclude exceptions. There is Mary, obviously, but why not St Joseph as an exception too (by special graces from God not given to other saints?) So St Joseph: incurred original sin? Yes. Was cleansed of it in the womb? Possibly, even probably. Committed actual sin (however slight)? I don’t think there is any dogma on the point, but is seems offensive to pious ears. In any case, there are so many fine, uplifting and encouraging things to say about St Joseph, things that are attested in Scripture and Church teaching, so why preach such odd, negative and disturbing things? Not heresy, I would say, but certainly not helpful either.

  27. TonyO says:

    Blackfriar, I have heard that there is a tradition that St. Joseph did not sin from the time he was married to Mary, forward to his death. I don’t know if it is accounted a capital T Tradition, or not. Either way, small or capital, it is a pious belief. And it implausible that such a tradition could have meant to imply that he was without actual sin even before his being married to her, rather than implying that he had actual sin before being married to her, but none after – which is also the time that he was the husband of the perfect woman who always responded perfectly to grace, and the (legal) father of the perfect man and source of all grace. Certainly it is acceptable to faith to believe that in such conditions he was led by grace to sin no more. And still such belief leaves room for his having sinned before such events. Personally, I have never heard there was a tradition that he was sinless throughout all his life – and if there was such a tradition it would seem to fly in the face of a tradition that claims he was sinless after becoming married to Mary.

    For those who feel free to call Mary an unwed mother, one must wonder what leads them to say such impious things – even in the face of the testimony of the Fathers and Doctors. I do not doubt that it is tied to a desire to undermine the public shame that has been – in the past – attached to the condition of being an unwed mother. But what of THAT desire? First, outside of the circles of the 25% of Catholics who still go to church weekly, that shame hardly even exists as a social reality any more. Far more common is the attitude of either (a) “what business is it of yours or mine”; or (b) “at least she did not abort the baby”. Indeed, in the unchurched there is so little sense of it that single women sometimes seek out becoming pregnant via IVF in order to have a baby without the direct attention of a man – and feel no shame at perpetrating such a horror on the child.

    But shame as a social condition is a positive good for society. It serves to restrain immorality that is detrimental to society which is yet not illegal. A society without ANY such shaming is a society deathly ill, for it must needs have far too many laws, or tolerate far too many kinds of immorality for living peacefully together. Our society practices such shaming quite effectively, but not always toward the right actions: treating gays and the willful trans as what they REALLY are doing will bring you public shame (recall Mozilla founder Michael Eich?). The failure to treat hooking up, shacking up, and willfully having a baby out of wedlock as shameful is a truly damaging feature of our social environment, for which the claimed rationale by decent Christians – that some women who are unwed mothers are not culpable for their condition – is an altogether insufficient rationale. Such feeble claim is sufficiently met simply by saying that the shame should be attached rather to those who ARE culpable, which is the vast majority, and even more to the men with whom they were at fault. (And, of course, by far the majority of people who are intent on undermining this kind of shame are not decent Christians, but hedonists and materialists who object to anything that gets in the way of pleasure.) Thus, the proper response to finding that a woman is an unwed mother is to withhold judgment until you have the facts, and when you do have the facts to respond to unrepentant culpability with shame and to innocence with heartfelt pity and, where possible, assistance.

    In no case does this mean we may use Mary as a political tool with which to beat down shame as a proper social mechanism, and those who would do so are offensively devoid of proper feeling to their own Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary. Beware those who push this nonsense: some are merely innocent victims of the SJW tactics, but some are willing cooperators in it.

  28. Marion Ancilla Mariae II says:

    I don’t know about Saint Joseph never having committed any sins during his life.

    I do know that Saint Therese of Lisieux said, “from the age of three, I denied the good God nothing.” And when she made a general confession near the time of her entrance into the convent, the priest’s response to her was, “In the presence of God, the Blessed Virgin, and all the Saints, I declare that you have never committed a mortal sin.”

    Therese committed some faults, it might be said, but nearly always inadvertently.

    Even apart from any extraordinary preservation such as those Our Blessed Mother and Saint John enjoyed, surely God might have preserved the good Saint Joseph in much the same way that He did Saint Therese, and, I think, probably, even more so.

  29. The Masked Chicken says:

    The Most Holy Virgin was an unwed mother? The Holy Family were refugees?

    That is so last-century thinking. It is more correct to say that she was a semi-wed mother or, better, a Quantum Mother (I claim the trademark). Similar to Schroedinger’s Cat, who existed both alive and dead until observed, Mary existed, simultaneously, in the wed and unwed state when she was discovered with child, but even more deliciously than the bifurcated feline, she was not only quantum in her wedding state, but quantum in her motherhood, since the baby in her womb was both God and man. Oh, and did I mention that she was the bride of St. Joseph and the Holy Spirit?

    You can preach from the pulpit all the live-long day about unwed mothers, but I have, yet, to hear a homily on the embedded quantum states of the Holy Family. Alas, that would, probably, be a homily reserved for after Vatican III.

    Oh, and I don’t consider the Holy Family to so much be refugees as being in an extended witness protection plan. I mean, Jesus is THE witness of the evils of Herod and it is like having a mob contract being put out on the family and a kindly uncle, I mean angel, calls Joseph up in a dream and tells him to get out of town, to the lovely little place the uncle owns in Egypt.

    Unwed mother? Refugees? I think a mob contract on a tran-ontological family is a better version of the story for the “Modern Age,” that Vatican II said the Church should encounter.

    Now, that is a homily I would like to hear.

    The Chicken

  30. Herman Joseph says:

    Masked Chicken,

    Mary was not “semi-wed.” She and Joseph were truly married prior to the Annunciation. The second step of marriage was simply when the husband brought his wife (wife–the first stage of marriage was the consent in which they were truly and completely married) to live with him. There is no “semi-wedded” Mary. That they were husband and wife prior to the Annunciation is Church Teaching.

  31. The Masked Chicken says:

    My use of the other word, semi, is different than yours. I clarified the meaning, subsequently. Betrothal is marriage, but it is not called marriage, in a final form, otherwise, the term, betrothed, would be redundant. You are talking about state. I am talking about process. The process at the stage of betrothal is semi-complete, even if the state is fixed. Thus, in regards to the process of being wed, Mary was semi-wed, but she was completely married. See the difference?

    The Chicken

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